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The Punisher (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Netflix recently scored itself another hit Marvel television series with a brand new adaptation of the popular vigilante hero The Punisher. It marked the first “pure Marvel” take on the character. Prior to that, he’d been in the cinematic landscape with efforts from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures to Lionsgate, played by someone new each time; Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson. Lionsgate is looking back upon its output and upgrading them both to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray, boasting new and improved picture to go with a fresh new Dolby Atmos track to blast up and down your viewing area. Both are getting released on September 25th and have a DYNAMITE price to lock in for a pre-order currently ($14 & $16 bucks, are you kidding me?). This review will take a look back at the rather solid 2004 film, with the most intricately laid out and overdone plan for “punishment” of all time.

Film 

This dark action film, based on the comic book series, follows FBI agent Frank Castle as he transforms into the vengeful Punisher after criminals murder his family, including his wife and son. Castle is gravely injured in the attack and believed to be dead by Howard Saint, the crime lord who ordered the hit. Following his recovery, Castle becomes a heavily armed vigilante who will stop at nothing to exact revenge on Saint and dismantle his evil underworld empire.

During the Marvel comic book superhero boom of the early 2000s, there was Blade, X-Men, Spider-Man and then everyone else. Studios were snatching up properties to get their own piece of the pie, but none were as well received or made as much money as those three. Between 1998-2007 we had household names like Hulk being made and scraping the bottom type like Man-Thing. Lionsgate wound up having the rights to The Punisher and threw some chips on the pile in 2004. In this era, it might be the most inoffensive and fine film of all the also-rans that came during this period. The film is nothing above and beyond or special, but its far from being awful and just is solid and delivers mostly what you’d want from the title character.

While Deadpool a couple years ago made a big stink about “Hey, look, I’m an R-Rated superhero movie”, let it be known that the lowest rating a Punisher film has received is R. There’s really no way around that with Frank Castle (The Lundgren one never really received a rating, so…”Unrated”). This film doesn’t take full advantage of being R, but the rating allows it to feel a bit free and confident with itself. The film pulls from some different sources, but primarily The Punisher: Year One and Welcome Back, Frank. It can pull from those books with ease and keep to the pages.

The cast here is pretty solid. Travolta was a huge get at the time, as he was a top choice for Blockbusters to put in a villain role at the time. And, he’s quite good in it and has some rather good chemistry with those close to him like Will Patton and the always underused Laura Harring. As silly and ridiculous as Castle’s plot against him is, Travolta always sells it, helping the movie to be enjoyable despite how crazy it is when you try to logically get in tune with Frank Castle. Said Punisher is Thomas Jane who really devoted himself to the role. Not many cared that they were comic book heroes at this time in movies, but Thomas Jane really devoted himself to the character, his workouts and engaging fans. Disagreements on the direction of the next film had him walking away, but since, he’s always been grateful and would done the skull shirt in a heartbeat if asked, probably. His supporting crews features a Marvel favorites Rebecca Romijn, Ben Foster and also one of the last big screen roles for legend Roy Scheider.

The Punisher is a solid effort and still holds up okay today. If anything its a bit safe, and as mentioned, the overall “plan” Frank Castle has is a bit much. Admittedly, it IS fun to see it all played out. The only thing dating it is the overuse and abuse of the Seether song with Amy Lee from Evanescence. Seriously, it plays alllll the time in it. The film is a relic, but it does The Punisher fine in a film that you can go back to unapologetic-ally unlike some its brethren Hulk, Daredevil or Fantastic Four. Its even better than some of the top flight guys’ sequels (Blade: Trinity, for example). And obviously its better than the one with Dolph Lundgren, though I’m sure that one has its fans as well.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: The 2004 Punisher  film comes as a native 4K transfer, being shot on film. It sees a really nice upgrade, with a more crisp and detailed image. Its has a richer, bolder look with more confident motion than it had before. Its not a transfer that’ll set the world on fire, but compared to before and the overall just well done look of the thing, its quite a nice jump from the standard Blu-ray (Which came early on in the format and never featured a new transfer).

Depth: Some solid depth of field work in the image. Exteriors at the beach look very good and feature a nice push back. Movements are very smooth and cinematic with no blurring or jitter distortions during more rapid action moments.

Black Levels: Here’s where the film’s new transfer tends to thrive, as the blacks are quite natural, well saturated and hang onto a very good amount of detail. Its very impressive, really. No crushing witnessed at all during this viewing.

Color Reproduction: The Punisher lives in a more grounded world, so the abundance of bright flashy colors isn’t readily available. However, things like Samantha Mathis’ pink pants, a lime green muscle car and a red tool chest in the apartment building all lovingly pop on the screen. The natural stuff also has some terrific saturation and contrast in the image. HDR glow is reserved for a lot of fire, tail lights, light bulbs, cigarette cherries and the like.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent for the entirety of the film. Facial textures and details like stubble, make-up brush lines, lip texture, dried blood, bruising, wrinkles and more come through quite clearly in any reasonable distance they could be seen.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Lionsgate continues to rock our socks off with these new Atmos tracks on their upgraded catalog titles. The Punisher gets loud, proud and utilizes the room during its action sequences. Said room feels a lot more alive and free wheeling with better travel and placement of the sounds via the location or volume in the mix. Easily stated, this movie is as it should be.

Height: Plenty of fun comes from above, be it music, destruction, falling debris…even simple bug noises can show up and fly overhead.

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer gets deep and absolutely pounds in this mix. Explosions, guns, a tire iron to the chest of the Russian and more just prove to be a beast.

Surround Sound Presentation: For a prime example in a short moment of how fun this track is, just go right to the Russian fight. The mix place around the room, having sound travel, different levels of volume as the camera moves and overall utilizing every speaker. The whole movie does this, but its a good bit of demo’ing just to get a quick taste.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are crisp, clean and ever present, even during some of the most crushing action sequences.

Extras 

The Punisher 4K Ultra-HD comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film.

Audio Commentary

  • With director Jonathan Hensleigh

Deleted Scenes with Optional Director Commentary (SD, 3:12)

Keepin’ It Real: Punisher Stunts (SD, 27:45)

Army of One: Punisher Origins (SD, 12:55)

War Journal: On the Set of The Punisher (SD, 29:59)

Music Video “Step Up” Performed by Drowning Pool (SD, 3:24)

Drawing Blood: Bradstreet Style (SD, 6:22)

Summary 

The Punisher is just a rock solid grisly super hero action film that is more akin to its action cinema brethren than comic book movies. It features a nice uptick in quality on audio and video, having a kick-ass Atmos track that really booms the room. The film is based on Welcome Back, Frank, but Welcome Back, Bonus Features as the standard Blu-ray did not carry any of them over. For the price they have this film and the nice complete upgrade it is over the previous format, its an easy pick up.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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